3 Ways Stress Can Harm Your Heart

3 Ways Stress Can Harm Your Heart

Lauren Diffendarfer

by Lauren Diffendarfer

Medical Educator

posted on Mar 11, 2015, at 9:48 pm


OFTEN, PEOPLE ASSOCIATE HEART DISEASE with an unhealthy lifestyle, such as smoking, binge drinking and a poor diet. Other people are under the impression, “it won’t happen to me”, because they appear to by physically healthy, without signs of high blood pressure or a family history of heart health issues. These beliefs, however, are unfortunately not the case.

stress meter going off the chart

An unhealthy amount of stress can be a serious threat to heart health, which accelerate or even sometimes cause heart disease or a heart attack. There are several ways high levels of stress can affect your heart health:

1. Increased blood pressure
High blood pressure, which is also known as hypertension, occurs when the force of blood pushing against your blood vessels is too high causing the heart to work harder. This can lead to harder arteries and heart failure.

A normal blood pressure is less than 120 over 80, and can be checked in various places without charge such as pharmacies, grocery stores and clinics.

According to a study reported by the American Heart Association, work stress form an imbalance of reward and work is associated with a higher heart rate, systolic blood pressure and a low vagal tone. In her study she measured the blood pressure of 109 workers for three consecutive workdays with the potential to be somewhat or highly stressful. Distress was found to be associated with high blood pressure (Vrijkotte, Lorenz, Eco).

2. Increased blood clotting
Blood clots limit or completely block blood blood flow and can travel to your brain, kidneys, lungs and heart. This blockage can cause damage to your heart, resulting in a heart attack. If the blocked artery leads to your brain, it can cause a stroke. Either of these clot-related medical emergencies could lead to death.

There have been several studies suggesting an association between a large amount of stress and increased coagulation, or clotting of the blood, but these suspected associations had little proof. According to a newer study by The University of Bonn in which researchers actually measured the rate of coagulation, people with high levels of anxiety had an increased risk of an imbalance of coagulation in coronary arteries compared to a healthy control group. This association begins to suggest why anxiety and stress is linked to increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.

3. Behavior changes and increased risk factors
Distress is exactly that: stressful. Often, people feel as if they cannot escape stress without reaching for a cigarette or greasy hamburger. There are several habits people take up during times of stress:

• Smoking cigarettes
• Eating a poor diet
• Excessive drinking
• Physical inactivity

There are several types of stress, each affecting the body and mood in different ways. One study reported by the World Heart Federation reported a linear progression between lifestyle related stress and damage to the carotid artery.

Stress can also be linked to the development of other diseases, such as depression, which can also be damaging to the heart.

The news is not all bad. Distress can be altered or decreased through simple practices. Going outside, taking breaks or time off, relaxing, listening to music, meditating, or spending more time with friends and family can all de-stress your life today.

We want to know: What are some of your favorite ways to de-stress?


Vrijkotte, Tanja GM, Lorenz JP Van Doornen, and Eco JC De Geus. “Effects of work stress on ambulatory blood pressure, heart rate, and heart rate variability.” Hypertension 35.4 (2000): 880-886.

University of Bonn. “Anxiety Linked To Blood Clots: Fear That Freezes The Blood In Your Veins.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 March 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080325111800…>.

About Lauren

Lauren works as the Medical Educator for the Disque Foundation and has worked closely with us since 2014. She is a full-time student pursuing a BS in Biology at Indiana University as a recipient of the Chick Evans Caddy Scholarship and hopes to attend medical school to become a physician in the future. She is certified in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, Basic Life Support, Advanced Cardiac Life Support and Pediatric Advanced Life Support, and she is also a certified Basic Life Support Instructor for the American Heart Association. She stays heavily involved with health care in and out of her local community, helping plan and coordinate Disque Foundation events, teaching lifesaving skills to the communities and organizations that we serve and volunteering at her hometown hospital in the Birthing Unit.

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